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Why Customer Engagement is Everything Right Now

Customer engagement is always important, which is why we write about it all the time. And while a recession doesn’t increase the importance of customer engagement, it certainly underscores it.

In an economic boom, companies have some customer engagement cushion, meaning: even customers who aren’t completely engaged will keep paying the bills when things are good. But when times get tough, and budgets get cut, only companies with strong customer engagement will keep their accounts, protect their revenue, and possibly even find ways to grow.

In this post we’ll look at indicators and benefits of customer engagement, and hopefully convince you there’s never been a better time to double down on your existing relationships.

Defining Customer Engagement

Customer engagement deals with the emotional connection between your customer and your company and therefore looks different across different industries. For example, a retail brand is not going to define or measure customer engagement the same way a creative services consulting firm might. However, sifting through the many definitions of customer engagement will highlight 3 common, crucial elements:

  1. Customer engagement is rooted in ongoing, 2-way communication between a customer and your company
  2. Customer engagement creates a dynamic relationship that leads to real resilience
  3. Customer engagement can be measured against stated goals

At Kapta, when we distill and simplify those key elements, we say: Customer engagement is a resilient, strategic partnership in which both parties succeed.

At the end of the day, customer engagement is better demonstrated than defined. So let’s take a look at practical indicators of customer engagement.

Indicators of Customer Engagement

One way we help our own customers understand the strength of their customer engagement is by asking a short list of questions, each designed as an indicator of customer engagement.

  1. Do your customers reach out to you? Engaged customers will reach out anytime they face an issue or opportunity. If you find you are always the one initiating contact, you may need to work on customer engagement.
  2. Do you understand your customer’s big picture business goals? Understanding what your customer is trying to achieve at the company level—not just with the individual product or service you provide—means you’ve asked the right questions, and earned enough trust to get the right answers. That’s how you graduate from vendor to strategic partner, strengthening your position and delivering great work.
  3. Is your customer engaging with vendors who offer similar or complementary products and services? Even if they aren’t actively looking to replace you in your specific capacity, this is a bad sign. It indicates they aren’t aware of everything you could be doing for them, or that you haven’t demonstrated enough value to get the attention of other teams or functions in the organization. Which means you’re missing opportunities for organic growth and leaving yourself open to competitive threats.
  4. Do your growth goals reflect what’s possible for key accounts? In a customer engagement model, your own growth goals should reflect what’s reasonable in the context of your customers, rather than imposing your company’s own goals onto customers who may or may not be able to support them. When you’re truly engaged with your customer, you have a detailed sense of how much room they have to grow with your suite of products and services, and you can plan your own growth accordingly.
  5. Are you experiencing high customer churn? This is a no-brainer. If you’re losing customers left and right, they aren’t engaged with you. Of course, by the time this is happening, it’s pretty late in the game.

In summary, the questions we ask are designed to give you a sense of the strength of your customer engagement. If your client is reaching out to you regularly; if they call you when they’re facing an issue or opportunity; if they share with you the bigger context for what they’re doing; if you are confident in their satisfaction and your future with them, and if you’ve built your own sales goals accordingly, then you are doing customer engagement right.

Benefits of Customer Engagement

Let’s take those indicators and spell out the benefits of customer engagement in a recession. First, we’ll state the cold, hard facts: It’s a bad time to pursue new business. Cold calls are always a little awkward—they’re especially painful now. Even pursuing new opportunities with existing customers is a delicate proposition during a major crisis.

Here’s how real customer engagement helps you through a recession.

  1. Your customers reach out to you. Your customers are facing unprecedented challenges. If, time and time again, you’ve shown them that you’re here to help, they will actively seek your help navigating this crisis.
  2. You understand your customer’s big picture business goals. The more you already know about your client’s organization, structure, objectives, strengths, weaknesses, and more, the more you understand how this recession has affected them, and how they may need to change course. Armed with this insight, you can adjust your conversations accordingly, and ensure you’re a contributing strategic ally, rather than a tone-deaf vendor who’s really only adding stress to a stressful situation.
  3. Your customer engages with you across multiple teams and functions. The more you’re horizontally embedded in your client’s organizations, the less you need to worry about direct competitive threats. Recessions are a risky time for bidding wars—competitors might be willing to slash their prices to make their numbers. But if you’re deeply embedded in your client’s organization, the effort it would take to switch horses midstream won’t be worth even the most aggressive price gouging.
  4. Your growth goals reflect what’s possible for key accounts. The more your own growth goals were already grounded in what your customers could support, the less blindsided you’ll be by the recession. Sure, it might not be your biggest year. But if you were starting from a reasonable projection, rather than an inflated one, you’ll be much closer to your forecast and much better equipped to plan around the dip.
  5. Your customers stick with you. This is a no-brainer. If your customers were always on the brink of churn, they’ve probably already left—or they’re about to, as the recession continues. If your relationships are strong, they have a much better chance of weathering the storm.

Building Customer Engagement

So how do you get there? At Kapta, we believe customer engagement is the end product of a customer-first culture and process, executed by a dedicated team of account or client service professionals.

Let’s pick that apart for just a second. First, you need intention: A company-wide culture and a set of internal processes that puts customers first. This has to happen at the company level, because it has to be reflected in every function at your organization. It affects who you hire, how you train, how you measure performance, what products and services you offer, how you plan for growth, and more. The companies with the highest level of customer engagement are those that prioritize their customers, full stop.

A recession is in some ways the perfect time to make cultural shifts. But if that’s too daunting a task for right now, start by focusing all your energy on existing accounts—understanding how the crisis has affected them, and how you can help them get through.

You also need infrastructure: both people and technology. Customer engagement demands team of professionals dedicated to building and strengthening client relationships. If you’re not in a position to hire, start by ensuring your existing teams understand the importance of building customer engagement.

And set them up for success with a purpose-driven process and platform to support customer engagement. CRM and sales tools cannot do this for you. Neither can an ad-hoc collection of various communication, presentation, project management, and billing tools. We’ve written in detail before about how sales differs from Key Account Management, and why you need purpose-built tools for each. We’ll simply recap here that CRM tools are excellent for generating new leads or managing a high volume of low-touch customers, but they don’t provide the framework and visibility you need to build an ongoing, highly strategic relationship with any given, high-value client.

Kapta: Your Customer Engagement Platform

Hopefully by now the benefits of Customer Engagement are pretty clear. Customer Engagement creates lasting, loyal, strategic partnerships that help protect your existing revenue—and even drive growth—in a recession. Customer Engagement also helps position you as an indispensable strategic partner, vs a pesky salesperson trying to save themselves in a difficult time.

Kapta can help you get there. If you want to start light, download our KAM To Go framework to ground yourself in Our KAM Process. Then get in touch to see how we can help you double down on your existing revenue—and weather this storm with your clients.

Our KAM Process: Deep Dive into KNOW

Last week, we wrote a high-level summary of Our KAM ProcessTM, a proven methodology for building customer engagement and transforming customer relationships:

  • Know more, so you can plan better
  • Act strategically and effectively to drive meaningful change
  • Measure that change across multiple endpoints

The process is cyclical because engaged, satisfied, successful clients are going to want to keep working with you. Every time you start a new quarter, a new year, a new contract, scope, or initiative with a customer, you return to the beginning, asking what you know now, and how you can use what you’ve learned to act and measure even more effectively this time.

Now that we’ve outlined the process as a whole, we’re going to spend the next three weeks diving into each section in more detail. The spotlight this week is on getting to know your clients better than ever before, with practical emphasis on how and why we do it the way we do.

Understand the Overall Structure

We always start here, with the org chart. For one thing, it’s a straightforward first step: Just import your accounts and contacts from your existing CRM or other platforms. For another thing, it’s extremely helpful to visualize the overall reporting structure at your customer’s organization, even if you do the bulk of your work with a few key contacts. Here’s why:

Understanding reporting structure gives you a better sense of what your day-to-day contact is juggling in their job. In addition to meeting project goals, whom do they need to engage, convince, or impress to be successful in their organization? When you have the big picture in mind, you can be proactive about making sure you get buy-in from the right people at the right point in a project. You can build in time for stakeholder review and revisions as you create timelines, so they don’t blindside you late in the game. And you can help support your clients in a way that makes them not only successful in their endeavors, but also successful in the broader landscape of their job.

A good sense of overall structure and culture also helps strengthen the relationship between your organization as a whole and your client’s organization as a whole. This creates sustainable, long-term relationships at the organizational level that last, even when someone changes jobs or shifts roles. And it creates more opportunities for cross- and upselling, since your contact will be more willing to work with other people at your organization who offer unique perspective and services.

Get Personal

Now that you’ve established the overall structure, it’s time to dive deeper into the goals, motivations, and expectations of key individual clients. Kapta helps you do this with a template for building detailed client profiles. A key component of these are the Voice of Customer (VOC) tools, a series of questions designed to probe deeper into what your client is trying to accomplish, and how they expect you to help.

Start by customizing your questions. Because we’ve been doing Key Account Management for a long time, we’re able to provide a starting point for VOC questions. These are based on our experience and general best practices. However, they are just a starting point. As time goes on, it’s important to customize or expand on the original list of questions to continue the conversation you’re having with that client, and capture their specific needs.

Think about this on a personal level. You might start a new friendship asking the usual questions: “Where are you from? What do you do? Do you have siblings?” But as time goes on, your conversations get more unique, and your questions more relevant to that friend’s life. The same applies for customers. Make sure you’re using VOC tools to ask specific, relevant questions that relate to their industry, their company, their goals, and more.

In addition to customizing VOC tools, consider face or phone time to talk through questions with your client, rather than relying too heavily on emailed surveys. A well-placed email or text is sometimes the time-saver everyone needs, but it’s not the right way to tackle big questions.

Get Strategic

Now that you know what your client is trying to accomplish, it’s time to take a look at the internal and external factors that might support—or inhibit—their success. The best way to do this is the tried-and-true SWOT analysis.

A SWOT analysis consists of 4 components: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Strengths and weaknesses are internal; opportunities and threats are external. A SWOT analysis is often presented in a grid like this one.

 

Kapta SWOT

We find the best way to conduct a meaningful SWOT analysis is to conduct an in-person, interactive workshop with your client. Start by doing your research. You want to show up to the meeting already prepared with at least a few thought-starters in each category. This gets the conversation going so you can capture even more insights from people in the room. (Remember, as a rule, it’s always easier for your clients to react to something that already exists than to generate ideas out of thin air. Preparation helps prevent putting clients on the spot in an awkward way.)

In addition to thinking through the SWOT itself, think through who should be in the workshop. This can be a great chance to hear perspectives from across your customer’s organization, in order to build a truly comprehensive analysis. It’s also a chance to gain alignment among key players as you start to identify key priorities for action planning.

Once you’ve conducted your SWOT analysis workshop, capture the information in Kapta to keep it front and center for yourself and your team as you move forward with the next phase of Our KAM Process: Action planning.

Benefits of Customer Knowledge

In many ways, the benefits of customer knowledge should go without saying. But some are less obvious than others, and it’s useful to remember what customer knowledge can help you do—especially since, like any aspect of Key Account Management, it requires time, effort, and in-person meetings. With strong customer knowledge:

  1. You can be more proactive. When you know more about what your customer is trying to accomplish, you can be on the lookout for opportunities to make those things happen for them. For example, if you know they need approval from their boss to move forward with something, you can schedule an approval milestone into your timeline, and offer to facilitate the process. This not only makes your contact’s life easier, but also puts your company in front of their boss.
  2. You can upsell more effectively. When you understand your customer’s needs, upselling and cross-selling don’t even really feel like “selling.” Instead, they feel like offering welcome solutions to a challenge you know your client is facing. Bundling products and services improves your bottom line and makes it more attractive for your customer to work with you on multiple initiatives, thus strengthening the relationship between your organization and theirs.
  3. You make yourself harder to replace. The more you know about your customer, their company, their industry, and their challenges, the harder it would be to get a different vendor up to speed in the same way. Not that you want your customers to stick with you out of inertia alone, but it’s important to remember your knowledge is a competitive asset.
  4. You make it easier to move past mistakes. Everyone has bad days. In the course of a long-term relationship with a client, you will inevitably make mistakes, miss a deadline, or miscommunicate. If you have a strong personal relationship with your clients, they will often be willing to work through those errors. And when they have a bad day—miss a meeting, lose their temper, etc—you’ll be more likely to understand what’s stressing them out, and better able to move on quickly.
  5. You boost your satisfaction at work. The people you work with significantly influence your quality of life. When you spend all day, every day talking to your customers, it can add meaning and satisfaction to your job and your life to get to know them as people.

Conclusion

We believe very strongly that putting customers first can improve your company’s bottom line. And that starts with really knowing your customer: Who they are, what they want, how they work, what they’re good at, what frustrates them, and, above all, how you and your team can help them succeed.

For a deep dive into Kapta’s tools for generating and capturing customer knowledge, schedule a demo.

Our KAM Process: Your Roadmap for Building Customer Engagement

We’ve talked to a lot of companies about Key Account Management, and we often hear some version of the same objection: “This would be great for our organization. But where do we even begin?”

Change is hard, and it can feel daunting to establish, expand, or improve your Key Account Management function. We understand, which is why we offer more than an app—we also offer a roadmap. Our KAM ProcessTM is a proven methodology for transforming customer relationships through Key Account Management: Know more, so you can plan better. Act strategically and effectively to drive meaningful change. Measure that change across multiple endpoints.

When you implement this process, you’ll build engagement, reduce risk, standardize processes and drive growth.

Know More, Plan Better

The better you know your customers, the more strategic and effective you can be for them. That means going beyond names and titles to understand your their personal and professional goals, as well as their motivations and expectations. Here’s how we break this down in Kapta:

  1. Understand the dynamic. Start by identifying key customers. Who runs the day-to-day? Who makes key decisions? Who are the stakeholders? Kapta provides a dynamic org chart to show you the full structure at your customer’s organization: Who you know, who you don’t, and who you should.
  2. Understand the objective. This is where you start to understand what your customer is trying to achieve. What are their big picture business goals? What are their team and personal goals? How do they expect you to help? And most importantly: How can you go beyond those expectations so they engage you for even more work in the future? Kapta’s Voice of Customer tool helps you ask, answer, and save these questions so you have the information you need to make a great action plan.
  3. Enter the SWOT team. Get a clear sense of the factors that will contribute to your customer’s success, as well as anything that might hold them back. Kapta includes a SWOT analysis tool to guide a constructive conversation about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—and capture what you’ve learned to guide decision-making along the way.

Make Action Plans that Make a Difference

Now that you know what your customer is trying to accomplish, you can help them get there. This requires strategic thinking, creative problem solving, and an approach that puts customers first. Here’s how we approach account planning:

  1. Think strategic. Be specific. Account planning is basically the process of breaking down big, strategic goals into manageable action items for your team. Kapta’s action planning tool helps you move seamlessly through this process. When you plan this way, you ensure everything you do serves the bigger strategy, and you create clear purpose and expectations for your team.
  2. Stay organized. Now that you have a plan, you have to stick to it. Kapta helps you track budgets, timelines, and status updates for individual projects as well as for entire accounts. Our dashboards make it easy to see what’s working well, and what needs attention.
  3. Work together. It takes a team to move the needle. Not only your internal team, but also your client teams. Kapta makes it easy for multiple collaborators to contribute to a project, synching to tools like Slack to make things even more seamless.

Measure What Matters

It’s not enough to do the work—you have to show your work. Our real-time data tracking and dynamic reporting tools help visualize results for your clients and your C-suite. They also help you learn from your efforts, creating even more refined and effective action plans the next time around.

  1. Measure specific KPIs. Kapta tracks pre-determined metrics of success to ensure your action plan is proceeding as planned. And if it’s not, Kapta helps you course-correct quickly by raising the flag before it’s too late.
  2. Measure overall account health. It’s not just hard numbers that matter. It’s also less tangible, but equally critical things like client satisfaction, client engagement, and overall health. Kapta gives you “one score that matters:” an at-a-glance score to gauge the strength of any given account relationship.
  3. Measure internal success. Here’s the beauty of putting customers first: Their growth is your growth. Their success is your success. When you help your customers reach their goals, you make it easy for them to renew contracts with you, and maybe even increase their scope of work. Kapta helps you visualize the organic growth you drive through your efforts, and gives you an excellent benchmark for performance reviews, no matter which side of the table you’re sitting on.

Rinse. Repeat.

Our KAM Process is intentionally cyclical. When a client is truly engaged, they’re going to keep sending you work, and that means you need to use what you’ve learned to keep making the work better. What you’ve measured from one action plan becomes part of what you know for the next one, so you can act even more effectively. Keep working through the full KAM Process, and you’ll keep making yourself indispensable to your clients.

Get Started

We developed Our KAM Process to give our clients a clear path forward on their journey in Key Account Management, whether you’re establishing, expanding, or improving your internal process. In the spirit of clear paths, here’s what you can do now to learn more about Our KAM Process, or even start implementing it in your organization:

  • Learn how Kapta can support Key Account Management in your own organization.
  • Download our Big Book of KAM for a longer, more comprehensive read into this process as well as Key Account Management in general.
  • Stay tuned: In the coming weeks, we’ll be doing a deep dive into each part of this process: Know, Act, and Measure.